Advocates for Christchurch central’s inner city redesign say skeptics need to focus on the end goal, not dwell on slow-moving construction and traffic congestion.
At a private meeting at city council headquarters on Tuesday, described by attendees as “heated” and “explosive”, central Christchurch property and business owners discussed claims the An Accessible City road redesign scheme was putting the rebuild at risk.
The plan was flawed and the road works were too slow and disruptive, the representatives said.
University of Canterbury professor Simon Kingham, who has researched sustainable transport, believed most of the annoyance towards the multimillion-dollar scheme came from the slow progress, but the final result would be worth the wait.
“I sympathise with the issues on time and congestion and it’s very frustrating, but what we are trying to achieve is a city that will encourage people to visit and make it easier for them to do so.”
The focus needed to move to the “end project”, not the journey to get there, he said.
The plan aims to improve the central city’s traffic network and involved narrowing traffic lanes, adding street furniture, rain gardens and traffic calming measures, creating shared spaces for cycling and walking, reducing speed limits, and removing on-street parking.
The Accessible City chapter of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan said improved facilities could prompt the “largest single change in how people travel around central Christchurch”.
Kingham said the development is pretty radical for New Zealand, but it was heading towards other very successful global cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Vancouver – “and it works there”.
Graz, an Austrian city comparable in size to Christchurch, became the first in Europe to introduce 30kmh limits in 1992, despite strong public opposition. After a two-year pilot, a referendum found the majority in favour of the lower limits.
Kingham said the initiative was not to drive cars out of the city, but rather a move to make it more accessible for everyone.
Don Babe, president of cycling advocacy group Spokes Canterbury, said the cycleway would encourage apprehensive locals to give cycling a go.
“It’s for people who might wake up and say, ‘I wouldn’t mind biking into town today’, but previously they thought it was too dangerous.
“I would cycle either way, but it’s providing alternatives and making it easier for people to go into town. There’s a really great bus exchange, they’re getting there with the cycleways and people can still drive.”
Babe encouraged people to cycle two or three days a week, and thought there would be huge decreases in traffic congestion, emissions, and massive health benefits.
“Obviously the works are very disruptive, there’s no doubt about it, but you have to make people uncomfortable for them to change their travel habits.”
He praised the 30 kilometre per hour speed limit enforced in the central city and said the decrease would significantly lower the severity of accidents.